Finding Joy in Small Spaces

My epiphany came on a winter day when I was feeling sorry for myself. I call those kind of days “fat slug days” because during the cold weather I slowly slither along in my sun deprived paleness lugging around extra pounds from eating too much comfort food. On that particular day, I focused on getting old and how the elderly diminish and wither as they sit home or in nursing homes with their TVs and blurring memories. Sorrow is small, I concluded. And then I thought a little more. So, if sadness is a state of contracting, then joy is expansive. Joy is the outdoors and music and art and dancing and belly laughs. Joy is big! And that is why I travel, to experience the elation of the big wide world.

Image may contain: tree, sky, plant, road, outdoor and nature

Today I’m 70 and in my tenth day of “social isolation”. The media makes it clear, over and over again, I’m in the risk category. I just spent a year saving money for an 80 day solo road trip through the American South. It isn’t going to happen. I can’t go now.

The first few days alone were a bit exciting as I prepared my nest, getting organized and doing some problem solving. I busied myself, alternating meanful chores with watching news about the virus. I thought about topics for my blog and all the projects I would do now that I had extra time.

Day three came in with a shock as President Trump stated he thought things would be up in the air until July or August. What? I knew I could do 6 weeks because I had done that while my broken ankle was mending. But anything beyond that I just couldn’t imagine. I contracted, stayed in my pajamas, and watched the terrible news all day. I knew things were bad when I gobbled down double my daily allowance of my homemade muffins. I was sad and I felt small. Writing always makes me feel better but I shrank in doubt. My nagging inner critique suddenly appeared and it shouted me down.

The next day I went immediately to my chair and the TV but luckily there was a bit of light mixed in among all the doom and gloom. An author talked about his experience with social distancing, how he lost his retirement funds in the evaporating stock market, how he couldn’t sleep with his wife anymore because she was a health worker on constant call, and how his college age son was now back home in a state of aimless depression. Then he added more gloom. He pointed out that because of the pandemic and the tremendous effect it is having on the world economy, there is a strong probability that we may never be able to go back to the way we lived before. We have to face that because of circumstances beyond our control, we needed to prepare to cross over to something entirely new. As I listened to him, I knew what he was saying was true. I held my breath hoping he would say something positive. I waited for some sort of “it is bad but” redemption.

It came in his simple words, “We have to step up!” He stated that we will all be faced with a new way of living and will be called upon to make things better by the quality of our individual ways of adapting. We can’t just sit in front of our screens, we must act. I need to act. I have so many things I can do in my isolation. I have a house to organize and drawers and closets to weed out. I can write on my blog, paint, read, learn new skills (youtube can be my school), connect with people on facebook, research local history, etc., etc., etc.

The world situation pulls on me. It wants me to become small. I can feel it as the hours pass. I don’t want to be diminished.

I’m making lists. How crafty my brain is as it makes me forget about the possibilities that excite me.

I’m working on my immune system. ( Youtube, Dr. Eric Berg-“Coronavirus Resistance-Beyond Healthy Eating”) Dr. Berg states that stress is immunosuppressive. Like the author I previously mentioned, he advises us to stay in action, to be productive. He recommends limiting news consumption, taking walks and working constantly to create our own health.

I’m going to devise a daily schedule for myself. I fluctuate between being productive and wasting a lot of time. I knew, when I taught 7 and 8 year olds, that structure and having a plan were essential. I also knew that varying activities kept attention and engagement alive. I guess this retired teacher will be using proven educational tricks on herself.

I’m back to writing. For some reason, I have to write, it keeps me smiling. I can’t tell you how much I appreciate the connection I have with those of you who read my stuff. Thank you so very much.

Joy is big, it is expansive. It has nothing to do with time and space. It is about taking action, moving forward and never becoming small. Everyday in our minds, hearts, and souls it can grow bigger and bigger. We all need to keep joy alive.

Copyright 2020@ The Autonomous Traveler All rights reserved.

Fitness Training for Old Age

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 Me,  March 2018
Ponte Vedra Beach, Florida

Eleven years ago I had back pain. I think it was psychosomatic. I was mad at myself for staying too long in a relationship that wasn’t working. Once I got the man out of my head, the back pain was gone.  Two years ago, I developed pains in my legs. It was really weird. It was intermittent, jumped from leg to leg, and sometimes wasn’t present at all.  After months of suffering,  I realized that my problem was a pair of black flip flops that had become my shoes of choice. Once I started wearing shoes with more support , my problem disappeared.  One year ago, I started having discomfort in my shoulders. This really bothered me both physically and psychologically.  I was afraid it was the beginning of the end. I actually thought I might have to give up camping and traveling.  But with help from physical therapists here at home and in Florida, I won that fight, too. I have to do stretching exercises every other day but it’s worth it. When I drove home from Florida this month I realized that even after two hours of nonstop of driving, I could exit my mini van with no grunting and no pain.  Victory!

This week, I  heard someone interview Elon Musk, the founder of  The Tesla Car Company. He has been having some trouble at one of his manufacturing plants.  Mr. Musk said he had been sleeping at the plant to keep on top of things.  On his office wall was an interactive computerized wall chart that showed strengths and weaknesses on the assembly line. When asked why he seemed to never leave the factory, he explained he needed to solve problems in real time.

Real time. Not later, not in an hour, not tomorrow.  Real time, as in now! I have not been a real time person when it comes to my health.  I overeat and then promise to start a new diet the next day.  I pledge to watch my intake of sweets and then I cheat.  I  constantly make excuses not to get in my daily walk. Well,  I am now 69 year old.  Young enough to know I have some time left but old enough to know time is running out. My three recent experiences with pain were wake up calls. I want to be as healthy as I can be. I want to really work on healthy habits. If not NOW, when?

There is enough information out there, so I know about staying away from salt, sugar, and fat.  I know about smoking and excessive drinking. I have tried all sorts of exercise plans but I like walking the best. It’s free and it can be done almost anywhere. I want to be like Elon Musk and study the strengths and weaknesses of my approach to life. It’s not  about  about how I look anymore, it’s about being the healthiest I can be.  It’s time to solve my problems in real time with discipline and thoughtful reflection.  I want to be as mobile and pain free as long as  I can because I still have a lot of traveling  to do and a lot of life to live.